AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jacqui Halpin
As her wonderful picture book, Parmesan, the Reluctant Racehorse, launches (keep an eye out for my upcoming review), Jacqui Halpin sat down with me for an interview. We covered her book, writing process, inspirations and more.
Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issues it explores?
Parmesan, the Reluctant Racehorse is firstly a fun story. Children (and adults) will find a great deal of humour in it. But it is also a story that celebrates the joy of being yourself, even if that is a bit different from the norm. It’s about running your own race, and shows children you can still be a winner and stay true to who you are.
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story, and did it change much as you were writing it?
The story came to me in a dream. I woke up one morning with the story of a little racehorse called Parmesan who didn’t want to be a racehorse because he thought he was a dog. I developed the story over many, many drafts, finding the humour in it, and the thread of ‘fetched like a dog’.
How do you hope readers will connect with the book, and/or what do you want them to take away from it?
Firstly, I want children, and the adults reading them the story, to be entertained, to have fun reading it. There is so much humour in John’s great illustrations. I also want children to see that it’s okay to be a little bit different. What I would also like people to know is that part of the income from the book will go to the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust which uses prisoners from NSW prisons to help care for and retrain retired and injured racehorses providing them with a chance of a new life after racing. I think it’s the perfect combination, rehabilitating people and horses at the same time. If people knew how many racehorses are culled in the racing industry in Australia each year, they would be horrified! I was, and decided to do something about it with this book. Being animal lovers themselves, my wonderful publishers, Little Pink Dog Books, were totally on board with the idea as soon as I suggested it.
Kellie's aside: Wow, this makes me love the book even more! I grew up in a family that owned racehorses, and I used to attend events for years, but since I've come to realise how expendable these beautiful creatures can be to the industry, I've refrained. While I know there are owners and trainers who take care of their animals brilliantly, even after their careers are over, or if they don't 'perform', this is not the norm. I applaud Jacqui and Little Pink Dog Books for raising awareness of the plight of so many racehorses. I am also a big believer in the importance of rehabilitation programs for prisoners, so can see what a win-win the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust is. Good choice Jacqui! Now that I've added my two cents, let's get back to the Q&A... :)
Do you have a favourite picture book (or top three) that you can never get enough of? What about a favourite book character?
It is so difficult to mention only three!! I love the Hairy Maclary books! I also love Hattie and the Fox. That was a favourite of all my children. One of my recent favourites is The Sea Cat Dreams by Jennifer Poulter and Muza Ulasowski. It’s such a beautiful, moving book.
What influences do you think shape your writing?
Ideas can come from anywhere! How I feel about things, how I see the world, will often shape them into stories. ‘Write what you know’ is the classic phrase every writer has heard, but I also think you really have to write who you are as well, if that makes sense.
Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of this book that you could share with regards to working with the publishers and/or the illustrator?
John Phillips, the illustrator, and I are both new to this. It’s our first picture book so there was a lot of feeling our way. There were quite a few changes to the illustrations from the start to the finished product. One thing that was evident right from the start was John’s sense of humour! He’s created great illustrations and I was amazed at how his illustrations added to the story. It was wonderful working with Peter and Kathy from Little Pink Dog Books. I was included in every aspect of the process. And I could not be happier with the end product they have produced.
One bit of advice for emerging authors, it always takes longer than you first think to get the books in your hot little hands.
Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your next book or other project?
At the moment, I’m working on a picture book about a little wallaby in a wildlife shelter. I’m also writing the second book in a middle-grade historical-fiction adventure series inspired by my dad’s childhood growing up in rural NSW, in the 1930s, on a farm called Misery.
Do you have any suggestions on some ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book? For example, questions to discuss or ponder, activities to do etc.
I think any discussion on being yourself is great for children. We are all unique. Recognising that we are all different in some ways but also very much the same in other ways is important and helps us relate to and understand one another. I use the differences and likenesses between dogs and horses to do this.
I will have colouring-in sheets and book marks to download, courtesy of John, on my website soon. Parmesan’s attitude on life is something to be emulated as well, I think. Like many children, it doesn’t take much to keep him happy, someone to care for him, his doggy friends, and a ball to play with.
Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?
I used to be a registered nurse, and have always regretted not doing my midwifery. I considered going to uni to do the Bachelor of Midwifery when my daughter started her nursing degree a few years ago, but my first love now is writing and there is no way I’d have time to do both! Also, I have a day job as a Tuckshop Convenor.
Where do you do your writing, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?
I have a study now, since my youngest daughter moved out. I bought an old timber bank desk years ago that I just love, which is in my study, but I spend equally as much time at the dining room table writing. Especially in the mornings. I get up at 5am and write for a couple of hours before work. I always have to have a pot of tea beside me when I write, even if I don’t drink it! It’s a kind of ritual, make tea, write. That doesn’t mean I don’t write without tea. If I think of an idea anywhere, anytime, I stop and write it down or record it on my phone.
Do you have some tips for other creatives?
Keep at it! Eventually, your time will come!!
What about a favourite word or quote?
‘Writers, write.’ Simple but true, and very hard to find time to do with all the ‘business of writing’ stuff we have to do.